Magic Johnson and the Lakers aren’t afraid of thinking big and you can see the pieces of the puzzle starting to fall into place as we head into what will be a summer of destiny that will transform the franchise far into the future.
With a war chest of $70 million in cap space, a half dozen talented young players on rookie contracts, and a full complement of draft picks, the Lakers are perfectly positioned this summer to sign two max contract superstars in free agency and trade for a third superstar to create a monster big three. That’s the vision Magic Johnson will be selling superstar free agents LeBron James, Paul George, and DeMarcus Cousins when they meet this summer.
Building championship professional sports teams is about having a vision and the ability to sell that vision to attract the executives, coaches, and players to turn the vision into reality. As talented and deep as this young Lakers team is, signing two superstars would still leave them several years away from being able to compete with elite veteran teams like the Warriors, Rockets, or Cavs. But trading budding young talent for a third vet superstar could change that.
The Lakers’ ideal trade target would obviously be the Spurs’ Kawhi Leonard, whose pending free agency summer of 2019 and conflicts with the team over his quad injury have suddenly raised the possibility he might be available. The Lakers would likely have to give up Ingram and Kuzma plus filler and draft picks to trade for Kawhi but he would be a great fit playing in a monster big three with Paul George and either LeBron James or DeMarcus Cousins.
There are also other superstars who might become available via trade this summer, including Anthony Davis, Klay Thompson, and Kristaps Porzingis.
To compete for a championship. the Lakers will need that third superstar. But when you consider what you have to give up in a trade for a superstar, it also becomes clear that the Lakers need to sign two superstars in free agency, even if that means they take a gamble on DeMarcus Cousins and his torn Achilles.
While the Lakers could theoretically kick the can down the road and save some of their cap space for summer of 2019, it looks more and more like the Lakers are looking to make a big splash this summer via a monster big three. To do that, they will need to sign two superstars free agents this summer. Right now, there are only three viable candidates for the Lakers to pursue this summer in free agency: LeBron James, Paul George, and DeMarcus Cousins.
While LeBron would surely be the top target on the Lakers’ free agent list, DeMarcus Cousins could be a better fit with Paul George and Kawhi Leonard because of his age, position, and salary. Signing LeBron James as one of the team’s two superstar free agents would mean the Lakers would not be able to use Bird rights to bring back Julius Randle and would be limited to their $4 million room exception to sign a starting center if no DeMarcus Cousins.
While signing Cousins instead of James wouldn’t guarantee the Lakers could keep Randle, it would give them a realistic chance to either clear enough cap space via the Kawhi Leonard trade to allow them to keep Julius Randle and still sign Paul George and DeMarcus Cousins to max deals or convince George and Cousins to accept less ala Kevin Durant so the Lakers could keep Randle. Bottom line, it could come down to choosing Cousins and Randle or LeBron.
There’s no better salesman in the world to sell this vision of a monster big three than Magic Johnson, who along with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and James Worthy won 5 NBA championships as part of a similar monster big three. LeBron James, Paul George, and Kawhi Leonard or Paul George, DeMarcus Cousins, and Kawhi Leonard. Add Lonzo Ball and Julius Randle and you have a championship caliber lineup to compete with the Warriors and Rockets.
More importantly, the Lakers would have a sustainable championship core with a proven veteran big three just entering their prime with 27-year olds Paul George and Kawhi Leonard and 28-year old DeMarcus Cousins along with budding stars in 21-year old Lonzo Ball and 23-year old Julius Randle. While the Lakers would have sacrificed promising young talents like Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma, they would compete for championships for years.
That’s the vision Magic Johnson will be selling LeBron James, Paul George, and DeMarcus Cousins this summer. Come join the Lakers and be a part of the league’s next monster big three and sustainable championship dynasty.